Mr. Medugno, how is the sentiment in Italy’s paper industry right now, given the circumstances caused by the coronavirus?
We have just closed a year that I would not define as brilliant. In 2019, the Italian paper and board industry has recorded a 2 percent decline in production volumes. Exports, which have become an important factor for the industry in the last years, have also dropped. This is a general picture that we can see in the entire European paper sector. If we look at Cepi figures, we see that paper and board production fell by around 3 percent. So we are sadly in line with this development.
Has the coronavirus had an impact on paper and board production so far?
I would say no. Operations are continuing and production is running quite normally. What we fear is the transport issue. There are problems concerning transports, linked to the fact that some companies don’t want to pick up goods in Italy.
They don’t want or they cannot?
The difference is quite subtle. Perhaps they cannot because some drivers are not ready to take the risk. Some may also say they don’t want to. In any case, road transports are a bit in difficulty because some drivers don’t want to come here or our drivers fear cumbersome controls, especially in eastern Europe. Some suppliers were also told to anticipate their deliveries. I think that every company has been facing this kind of problem recently. And it is likely that logistical problems will increase.
Italy has imposed a nationwide restriction on movements. What might be the impact on transports in the paper industry?
The Civil Protection Department has specified that movement restrictions do not apply to the transport of goods and do not prohibit people from moving within the country for professional reasons.
Actually, for some sectors, for example, the disposable tissue sector, this situation somehow … I don’t want to say that it helps, but we can clearly see that demand is growing. You just need to look at what is happening in the supermarkets or at the fact that people in offices wash and dry their hands more often.
The problem is, you just need one person to get sick in a paper mill and the site will have to close.
Yes, sure. We know that businesses are preparing. They monitor the situation of employees and are taking precautions. Some would even like to monitor the health of their workers a little more. But obviously this is not always possible because the collection of medical data raises concerns with regard to privacy protection. We are all more cautious now, especially the businesses. And many people work from home.
What is the conclusion you draw for the paper industry?
We don’t see yet any big damage to the paper industry. The impacts will certainly come because fewer goods will mean less packaging and less paper. Perhaps we are not yet particularly alarmed, but the situation is quite complicated.